Word & Paint Games: An Association Exercise with Ridley Howard

Suggestion is often more seductive than sheer exposure. Some of the finest artworks in our collective history are mere hints at the dark, sultry corners of our psyche. It doesn’t matter if those hints are cast in dark or bright colours: Frida Kahlo, David Hockney, Fiona Rae and Alex Katz are prime examples of painters who employ vibrant palettes in communicating complex, often hidden scenarios of which the viewer desperately tries to unpick and fill.

Ridley Howard Dream Painting, Orange and Silver (2018) Oil on linen 11″ x 14″ Courtesy of the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm

New York-based artist Ridley Howard follows in that grand tradition, upping the ante even further with splashes of eroticism streaked across airy, domestic backdrops. Howard earned his BFA from the University of Georgia, going on to his MFA from Tufts (School of the Museum of Fine Arts). His work has been seen at venues in Los Angeles, New York, Tel Aviv, Miami, Atlanta and Paris, with solo exhibitions staged at the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), and the Savannah College of Art and Design (Atlanta).

Since Howard’s work is so tied to associative exercises, I decided to construct one of my own with the artist. My aim was for Howard to expand on how these words are tied to his work and his own musings on how these words are filtered through popular culture.

Ridley Howard
Over the Star (2017)
Oil on linen
50″ x 66″
Courtesy of the artist


La Tour first comes to mind. He was the master of the glance. Also maybe Hitchcock and Godard. I do like thinking about multiple layers of meaning, in paintings and situations. A shift of the eyes hints at something bigger. A key to hidden feelings or drives, a thickening of the plot.. a disruption of the obvious. I feel like great films can build incredible drama around a side-eye glance. 

Ridley Howard
Morning Painting, Paris (2017)
Oil on linen
28″ x 23″
Courtesy of Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami

Flesh Tones

It takes years to learn how to paint flesh tones, and there are infinite combinations.  Probably the reason I still use oil paint. I love thinking about subtle shifts in color, reflected light, mid-tones…how light or the color of the room is absorbed. Years spent thinking about flesh-tones definitely influences the way I deal with transitions and paint, even when I am painting a sky or geometric form.


Temperature and weather were common themes in my early paintings. I was always intrigued by Giorgione’s ‘Tempest’, in which you can really sense the humidity. Now I think about conditions, but primarily depicted in color and light. You know, what do pink and red feel like, or lemon yellow?

Ridley Howard
Blue Dress, Blue Sky (2016)
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist

Baby Blue

There is something about gentle masculinity that I associate with light blue. It’s silly, and maybe obvious. But in painting, blue is space. It is immediately open and vast, even as a flat block of color. It sort of functions like a blank piece of paper.. you can put a mark or an image down on a blue ground, and it floats. I always think about Giotto, Fra Angelico, Bellini. Even if you paint an object light blue, it will have an openness and depth. It’s a space to breathe.

Ridley Howard
Kiss In Yellow (2015)
Oil on linen
8″ x 10″
Courtesy of the artist


Humans need escape. We need to spice up existence, an internal charge.. whether with food, drugs, music, another person, a flirtation, a painting, a photograph, drama. I love thinking about those moments when we are lifted, and the basic need for them. I guess my work reflects that somewhat, a tension between everyday banality and some kind of momentary arousal. I love that a painting can offer that as an experience, and also be about it. I guess I think about my paintings as being both hot and cool in that way. Is ‘detached arousal’ a thing?

Polo shirt

Easy living, nice weather.. probably in a pretty good mood. They cut across cultural sub-groups. Everybody probably has one. Casual occasion, and it’s sunny and 75. 

Suntan oil

I think most teenage boys have a Pavlovian response to suntan oil. It was the background aroma of my most adrenaline-filled hormone-raging moments in in the 1980’s. I tried to play it cool, but not easy. There is still something sweetly hedonistic about it that gets me, even in my 40’s.


Leisure beverage. Really only something I drink when in good company and the weather is nice. Also likely eating chips with salsa and guacamole.

Swimming pool

I love swimming pools. They are often beautiful architectural spaces in pleasurable settings. They elicit the perfect balance of charge and peace, a side stage to the everyday.  Sites for mini-dramas of glances, niceties, voyeurism, napping, nostalgia. There is a reason they feature so prominently in films and paintings. Every time I am at a swimming pool, I have the urge to making paintings. They’re a perfect subject.. space, geometry, memory, desires. Oddly, I often think more about Di Chirico than Hockney or Fischl.


I’m sure someone has written extensively about the cultural importance of sunglasses. They introduce such a funny power play. It’s a cinematic cool, great look with hidden intentions. The older I get, the more I like paintings that function that way.

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